I was script-consulting on a project the other day when my client made a rueful reference to "stupid studio notes." I took a deep breath and made the universal hand sign for Time Out, and delivered a brief rant that went something like this:
Studios have Story Departments. The story analysts who work within them are usually quite intelligent, because: Darwin (Stupid readers get fired, and smart ones survive and get even smarter). I liken my job to that of a mechanic in an auto shop. My goal is to find out what works and what doesn't in a given project, and my notes are a distillation of that pragmatic information (e.g. the script's structure is faulty = your transmission's shot), with some suggestions on how to fix what needs fixing.
But generally, my notes don't go to the writer. They go into The System. And most often what gets added in the System is: the creative executive's notes, the project executive's notes, the production head's notes, notes from the producers, notes from talent, notes from the studio head, et al. All of these notes represent disparate agendas. So by the time the screenwriter sees "notes," my own unfiltered and practical contribution has gone through one massive game of high-stakes Telephone. The "studio notes" the writer sees may even be self-contradictory, illogical, and/or incoherent.
Thus, "stupid studio notes." And the prevalent Hollywood myth of "Studio Bad, Writer Good" continues.
As someone who's been working in the belly of the studio beast for over 20 years, I offer this brief post and the links herein as a kind of Public Service Announcement for anyone who wonders why so many "bad movies" get made, and specifically for every pre-pro screenwriter who dreams of selling that spec script as a win-the-lottery proposition.
Recently fellow blogger The Bitter Script Reader offered this excellent post by screenwriter Eric Heisserer on how studio development actually works in the real world, which was offered as a kind of response to this insightful post by screenwriter Geoff La Tulippe on the same topic, and has more recently birthed this pithy overview from the Bitter Script Reader himself.
If you're a screenwriter working on a spec or approaching the market with one, you owe it to yourself to look at all three links. And civilians who walk out of movies saying, "Why did anyone make that piece of crap?" might find this material of interest as well. Here's my favorite quote, from La Tulippe: The longer you work in the industry, the more and more amazed you find yourself whenever a studio film WORKS.
Read 'em and weep.